Being Present in the Present

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

Do you remember as a kid how excited you were for Christmas? As soon as Thanksgiving passed, my parents would pull the Christmas tree and decorations out of the attic and we’d start decorating the house. The local radio stations would begin playing all the traditional Christmas songs, and in my mind, I would start the countdown to Christmas. But I wasn’t alone…even the local paper would list the number of days left before Christmas, and all my friends and I would talk about what we hoped we’d be getting that year.

As each day passed, my anticipation grew, and on Christmas Eve, I’d be so restless with excitement, I could barely sleep. Christmas Day was probably the one day where my parents didn’t have to wake me up to get me out of bed. Like most kids, I was the one waking them up that morning. At our house, we couldn’t just immediately open gifts though. We first had to eat breakfast. Then my mom would pull out the Bible and read the Christmas story. We’d sing a carol or two, and then pray. As soon as she or my dad said “Amen,” I almost dove under the tree, grabbed my presents, and mercilessly tore open the painstakingly wrapped gifts. Often more than naught, my Christmas gifts often consisted of clothes, which when you’re in elementary school, aren’t your biggest priority. But even those few times when my parents got me something I actually wanted, a few minutes later, with crushed, torn wrapping paper surrounding me, I couldn’t help but feel…well, disappointed. Christmas Day hadn’t even passed yet, but my excitement for the day had completely vanished. Of course, even as a kid, I knew the real reason for Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but come on, who are we kidding…I was a kid, and I was all about the presents.  But then I’d comfort myself with…well, there was always next Christmas to look forward to…although that seemed so, so far away!

As I got older, I found myself doing the same thing, although the focus wasn’t just on Christmas. Often it was just waiting for my life to change. It was finding the right guy to marry/finding the right job that would fulfill me/ waiting to get published/ not being able to be happy until the “storm” in my life passed/etc. But just like opening the Christmas presents, even when I got something I had been praying for or waiting for, there always seemed to be something else. Something to rob me of my peace. Something to make me feel as if I were never meant to be completely happy or satisfied. And rather than enjoying what I did have, my focus was on the next problem.

Apparently, King Solomon struggled with contentment as well.

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 2:17-23

Sometimes life does seem like a never-ending struggle. Our efforts and work sometime feel meaningless, especially when despite our hard work, things don’t seem to change or improve.

But one day when I was being particularly whiny about my life and how frustrated and unhappy I felt that I was still struggling with finding that work/life/family balance, a wise friend reminded that I was living a good life. I didn’t have to wait for it to be perfect to enjoy it. It was perfect in its flawed way. And it would always be imperfect. Perfection only lies in heaven, she reminded me.

King Solomon, too, recognized that hard work and struggle were part of our lot in life on this earth. But he also realized that despite the struggle, we should also enjoy our hard work.

24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?  Ecclesiastes 2:24-25.

Although it is natural to look forward to the future to the “Fridays” of our lives and want to avoid the “Mondays and Wednesdays,” be careful that you’re not so consumed that you miss the gift of the Present.

Questions: Do you find yourself almost wishing your life away as you wait for those Fridays or just live for special days like Christmas?  What can you appreciate right now about your life?  While there are some things you can’t control, what can you change to improve your life so you enjoy it more?  We’re all consumed by life and the hectic chaos, but challenge yourself this week to be present in the Present and focus on the blessings in your life.

Verse:  So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot.  Ecclesiastes 3:22.

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